More evidence for evil than insanity in Buffalo shooting?

More evidence for evil than insanity in Buffalo shooting?
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Over the past few days, there’s been a lot of speculation about whether or not the 18-year old accused of perpetrating the mass murder of 10 people at a Buffalo grocery store was mentally ill. Clearly there was some concern, given the fact that he had actually been taken in for a mental health evaluation after an apparent threat to his high school last year. But even if the suspect does have some mental issues, perhaps brought on or exacerbated by his isolation during the COVID pandemic, it also appears he’d been plotting and planning for at least five months before he carried out his cowardly assault, which makes me skeptical of the idea that the suspect was so mentally incapacitated that he couldn’t tell right from wrong.

A review of more than 600 pages of messages by The Washington Post found that Gendron resolved in December to kill those he slurred as “replacers,” and decided in February to target Buffalo’s Tops grocery store based on its local African American population. In March, he performed a reconnaissance-style trip to monitor the store’s security and map out its aisles, the messages show. When a store guard confronted him about why he had repeatedly entered that day, [the suspect] made excuses and fled in what he described as “a close call,” the messages state.

Having identified the supermarket as “attack area 1,” [the suspect] detailed two additional Buffalo locations as areas at which to “shoot all blacks,” according to the messages, which showed that he had charted routes to each location, worked out the times needed for each shootout and assessed that more than three dozen people in all could be fatally shot.

The hundreds of posts to a private Discord channel are described by the Washington Post as a “virtual journal” of the 18-year old murder suspect, and include details of the police investigation into alleged threats he made last year, as well as the day-and-a-half he spent in a hospital for a mental health evaluation.

The June incident was referred to New York State Police, according to a person familiar with the school’s handling of it, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential matters involving a student. [The suspect] wrote in the messages that the matter was dropped when he said he had been joking to get out of class. That account was confirmed by the person.

“That is the reason I believe I am still able to purchase guns,” [the suspect] wrote. “It was not a joke, I wrote that down because that’s what I was planning to do.”

I get the argument that the suspect in the Buffalo attack (it’s Bearing Arms’ policy to not name the shooter and give them any more publicity) “must” be suffering from some sort of mental illness, because no sane or rational person would ever do something like this, but I’m not convinced. I think we have to at least consider the possibility that he carried out this attack, not because of a mental condition, but a sickness in his soul.

At the end of March, [the suspect] mused about other areas he might attack such as majority-Black churches or schools. “I would consider breaking into a Buffalo elementary school but those places are locked up tight plus I get a strange feeling when thinking avout massacreing children,” he wrote.

That “strange feeling” was his conscious, which, if we’re to believe him, was apparently silent when it came to massacring adults, including an 86-year old woman. That doesn’t strike me as legally insane as much as it does morally monstrous, especially since it appears he knowingly lied to mental health professionals, police, school officials, and his parents about his real intentions.

Also cutting against the idea that the shooting suspect was unable to determine right from wrong is the fact that his online postings detail repeated (and apparently successful) attempts to hide his plan from his parents. At one point he lied to his father about a speeding ticket he received when he drove to Buffalo in March to surveil the grocery store, telling him he had ditched school in order to go hiking at a state park. On another occasion he wrote about his fears that his mom would discover the guns and ammunition he had squirreled away in his room; fears that apparently came to nothing.

We do legitimately have a mental health crisis in this country, and it evidences itself in many ways, including the record-high number of drug and alcohol related deaths that we’ve seen over the past two years; numbers that are far higher than all gun-related deaths, by the way). The COVID pandemic, along with the lockdowns, social distancing, masking, and other responses to it have undoubtably exacerbated that crisis, but I don’t think we can blame all of our troubles solely on the additional stressors in our lives and I’m not buying the argument that COVID is to blame for the shooter’s actions by causing a mental break with reality. From all of the evidence that’s emerged, it looks to me that he knew exactly what he was doing and how unconscionable it was.